Archive for the ‘The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students’ Category

January 7


By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 1:4-11

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October 1

What to do?

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 21:23–32

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Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Good morning, Marsh Chapel! It’s a pleasure to preach on this World Communion Sunday. It’s been a very busy start to the school year around here. All of the ministry staff have been working hard to reach out to students, offer our weekly fellowship groups, and establish the kind of care and compassion that religious life offers to the BU campus. Annually, we have two events that take place around this time of year. One is apple picking, which took place yesterday. We shuttle about 40 students to Westward Orchards out in Harvard, MA for a few hours of apple picking, some shopping in the small country store, and of course, fresh apple cider donuts. I heard this year was fantastic – unfortunately I couldn’t make it because I had a little thing called a sermon I needed to finish. 

The second event is something you’ve probably heard mentioned many times if you’ve been attending worship here for a while. The event is Spiritual Paint Night. We hold at least one each semester, welcoming students from across the campus for an evening of unstructured creativity. Started by my predecessor and friend, Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, Spiritual Paint Night isn’t like one of those sip and paints or painting classes that you can do at a restaurant or a bar. There isn’t instruction on what to paint. Instead, students are given a canvas and brushes, a palette and paint. They’re told to paint what they want. They’re told to focus on the process of creation rather than the outcome. No “mine isn’t good enough” no expectation that that it has to replicate anyone else’s work. Just time to meet new people, eat some snacks, get creative, and support each other in admiring one another’s efforts. 

The unofficial patron saint of these evenings is perhaps the most well-known American artist of the 20th century. It’s estimated that he painted well over 10,000 paintings. Even though his popularity started 40 years ago, most people in the United States, including young people who weren’t born yet when he was alive, can identify him and know what he’s most famous for. His iconic permed hair and denim outfits have been parodied over the years, but not without a profound sense of respect. If you guessed that this artist who has reached sainthood in our eyes is Bob Ross, then you’d be correct. We know Bob Ross for his gentle instructions on the PBS show “The Joy of Painting” which aired from 1983-1994. Each time he’d tell his viewers, who may or may not be completing that week’s painting with him, what tools and paints they would need to have their own creation at the end of each 30 minute episode. He’d then go on to instruct, reminding viewers that the canvas was their own little world in which they got to make the decisions, he would just provide suggestions and instruction on how to make elements. Perhaps most memorable were his “happy little trees” and also his statement that “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” His calm demeanor and encouraging words are why, perhaps, he has become an icon of ASMR, autonomous sensory meridian response, a sensory and emotional reaction to certain stimuli. People find pleasure in the calming nature of each episode, sprinkled with his witty “Bob Ross-isms.” He even has his own Twitch channel, an interactive livestreaming service, which plays episodes of The Joy of Painting continuously all day long. 

But, did you know that before Bob Ross became America’s gentle painting instructor, he was in the Air Force for 20 years? Not only that, but that one of his main positions in that time was as a drill sergeant. You know, a drill sergeant as in the super mean authority figures within the military who routinely “break down” new recruits, forcing them to do demeaning tasks and constantly yelling? Yes, Bob Ross was one of those. Reflecting on his time in the military, he was quoted as saying: 

"I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work," Ross later said. "The job requires you to be a mean, tough person, and I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn't going to be that way anymore." 

Bob Ross had a change of mind and heart. It was the military which would introduce him to painting. The backdrop of Alaska, where he was posted, took center stage in many of the paintings he would later create on his TV show. The authority that the position of drill sergeant afforded him, the power he had over others, didn’t mean much to him. In fact, he knew that it wasn’t what he was truly called to being and doing. The military was an occupation, but painting became his life. While the position of drill sergeant offered him authority in a systematic way, he actually gained his authoritative position (as in someone who demonstrates authority) through his painting. That’s why he’s so well known. That’s why people flock to him and his general positive outlook. His change from ordering commands to gentle suggestions, the structured efficiency of military obedience to an opening of creativity for others doesn’t mean that he lost his power or influence, he just modified it to a way that would serve others in a more practical manner. 

Authority is a central message in today’s gospel from Matthew. The context for this reading is important in understanding why Jesus’ statements about authority are so jarring for the religious leaders to hear. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem. The people, having heard of his healings and teachings, including embracing the poor and the marginalized, are excited to welcome him. The religious leaders, however, are wary. Today’s story takes place just after Jesus has overturned the moneychangers tables in the temple, showing his disdain for how the religious leaders have allowed this space to become a center for politics and economics rather than a space for prayer and worship. Jesus continues his time in Jerusalem by teaching in the temple, much to the ire of the religious leaders. 

They question Jesus. Where does his authority to teach in the temple come from? Jesus, being Jesus, doesn’t simply answer their question. He questions them back and then proceeds to tell them the parable of the two sons. A parable about words and action. A parable about doing the will of the father and merely saying you will do the will of the father. While the religious leaders seem to understand doing the will of God is what should be favored over mere lip-service, they do not fully understand the point that Jesus is trying to make in this story. 

What is confusing for the religious leaders is that they consider themselves to be authorities because of their place within society. Their authority derives from human sources, from a title and a position. Because of this, they use their power to affect society. They have influence over the ways things are done. They serve their own self-interests, rather than those who are suffering. While they might be good teachers of religious tenets and laws, they fail to see those teachings through with action. The religious leaders may be in positions of authority within the community, but they lack authoritative action in accordance with the will of God that would confirm that authority. They may say what is right and wrong behavior, but they are not open to any ideas that would challenge their access to maintaining the power they possess. The religious leaders are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another in order to maintain power. 

Jesus is not an authority figure that the religious leaders recognize. They don’t understand why he has so much popularity among the people. They don’t understand the way he goes about teaching and healing, reaching out to the poor, sick, and marginalized. If he truly were “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” as the people claimed when he entered Jerusalem, he wouldn’t have shown up on a donkey and he certainly would not be associating himself with prostitutes and tax collectors. 

The critical piece that Jesus is trying to teach the religious leaders is not that works are more important than faith (Martin Luther would be rolling over in his grave if I said that) but that the will of God makes itself known through a steady process of revelation and transformation. In fact, Matthew uses the term metamelomai, to change one’s mind, twice in this passage, emphasizing its importance in the parable Jesus uses for instruction. Actually, this term might be more accurately translated “to change what one cares about” or “to change one’s heart.” The first son changes what he cares about and goes into the field to work. The tax collectors and prostitutes changed what they cared about and understood John’s righteousness. For God to be at work in the world, people must maintain an openness, to have their minds changed, in order to discern what life in the kingdom of God calls them to be. Jesus points out that the prostitutes and the tax collectors will enter into the kingdom of heaven sooner than the religious leaders because they have left their minds to be opened to John’s righteousness. That openness in changing one’s mind also changes how they act with others.  

Allowing oneself to be open to the will of God requires humility. It requires us to go beyond what we want, what we’re comfortable with, to accept how God can create transformational power in our lives. In our current world, many expressions of belief have become about knowing, not seeking. What I mean by that is that belief has become more about certainty than an openness to new ideas and approaches. The same could be said about the religious authorities and heads of state in Jesus’ time. They were more concerned with maintaining the status quo, in which they held the power, than being challenged into a way of life of mutual support and humility. We see Paul imploring the community in Philippi to be “of a certain mind” together, willing to give up what each of them might be entitled to in the aid of another. They are to find a cruciform way of living, connecting their patterns of thinking with their patterns of living to enable the work of God to be done in the world. 

What today’s gospel and the other readings from today point us toward is that we do not have to be perfect in knowing. Instead, we have to be open to seeking God. We should allow God’s presence in our lives transform us, instead of asserting our own way. Jesus’ authority is not human authority, which focuses on the acquisition and maintenance of raw power. Rather Jesus’ authority derives out of humility, taking those who are abandoned by society and restoring them to wholeness through his healing. Jesus’ authority demonstrates a way of life for us that is open to God’s power and truth. If we fail, if we falter, if we don’t get it right on the first try, God will not abandon us. We can explore faith with the knowledge that God will be there for us even if our attempts in understanding are flawed. As Bob Ross would say, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” 

How wonderful it is, then, that we find ourselves located in a place of inquiry. A university campus is, perhaps, one of the best places for those who seek. Marsh Chapel stands as a place dedicated to the exploration of religious inquiry, not certainty. Here, we encourage you to ask questions, to be unsure, to be willing to explore. That’s honestly what I love most about my job. Working with young adults provides so many opportunities for openness, a willingness to learn and grow. We aim at providing a safe place to land, as well as a safe place to ask the existential questions – who am I? what is meaningful to me? Where and to what is God calling me? Just as Bob Ross encourages his audience to accept mistakes and be open to their own way of approaching painting, we too provide a place where people can change their minds, explore further, and be creative in their relationship with the Divine. Not because we say they must, but because we provide the support to allow such inquiry to occur.  

If we can maintain this openness, a willingness to have our mind’s changed, we may experience the radical transformation that comes in relationship with God. It requires us to get out of our comfort zones and accept that the way we’ve always done things may not always be the only or best way to do them. Authority doesn’t necessarily mean anything if it isn’t connected to action. In fact, authority is best exhibited through action rather than the external imposition of that status. As they say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Let us be active seekers of Divine transformation. 


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students 

August 6

Feasting Together

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 14:13–21

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Good morning, Marsh Chapel! I’m glad to be back in the pulpit again for our summer preaching series as we enter into August (it’s August already, can you believe it?) 

We continue our exploration of Matthew and the Costs of Discipleship this morning. Last week we heard about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew’s gospel. Through many metaphors, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a mustard seed, as yeast, as a net catching fish, as a treasure that is hidden. As Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady pointed out to us, in using these metaphors, Jesus is teaching us that the kingdom of heaven can be realized on Earth. Jesus comes to us to teach us how to live and in doing so shows us that love is the way of life. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is depicted most strongly as a teacher. He instructs the disciples on how to minister to others. He instructs the world on what the central message of his teaching is, to recognize God’s sovereignty and the importance of love and care of one another.  

In this week’s text, Jesus continues his ministry not through parables or metaphor, but through concrete action. Jesus shows us what the kingdom of heaven is actually like using bread and fish. Using compassion and patience. The story of the feeding of the 5,000 is a familiar one to our ears. We’ve encountered it before as one of Jesus’ miracles. In fact, it is the only one of Jesus’ miracles, except for the resurrection, that is recounted in all four Gospels. The writers of the gospels all share this story because it demonstrates a central importance to Jesus’ ministry and the message Jesus is sending to the world through his actions. It also provides many avenues from which we can understand the significance of this story. In fact, some scholars believe that while this may not have been a concrete historical event, its ability to be interpreted through many different lenses offers the opportunity for us to find meaning in a variety of circumstances. Morality, social justice, physical need, and our understanding of the Lord’s supper all influence how we read this text.  

For the disciples, this event is a challenge to their understanding of their way of life. The kingdom of heaven pokes its way through into our reality through Jesus’ actions. First, Jesus, although tired and seeking some refuge in time away from the demands of his ministry (something that we should know is necessary to continue to do one’s work well) is drawn back into that ministry by a crowd of people who followed him and the disciples to a deserted place. I’m sure you can relate to how the disciples might have felt in this situation. Who among us has been eager to take a rest, to find a quiet space, only to be drawn back into the world by the needs of another? I know for parents this is particularly true. In this case, he people come, and some of them are sick, so Jesus shows compassion and heals them rather than taking his rest. 

There must have been many sick people, because Jesus’ healing work goes into the evening. The disciples, not necessarily out of a desire to get rid of the crowd, but perhaps out of concern for their ability to find food and shelter, ask Jesus to send the crowd away. They are, after all, in a deserted area and while the disciples know they have food for themselves, the likelihood that others have brought food or will be able to find anything to eat where they are is slim. It makes sense then, to let them go back to where they can have food. Jesus’ response to them is almost as if their request doesn’t make any sense. He tells the disciples to feed them, knowing they only have five loaves of bread and two fish. 

Now, nowhere in this gospel reading does it say that Jesus somehow makes piles of food. It tells us that he blesses and breaks the bread, but he leaves it up to the disciples to distribute the food to those in need of a meal. While they do so, they find that there are not running out, but that there is enough food for all. So much so that there is bread to spare at the end. Everyone is able to eat until they are full, something that might have been a rarity for the marginalized members of that society. Because the food doesn’t appear suddenly in a big pile, there isn’t some moment where the crowd is amazed by what is happening or in awe of what takes place. Instead, this miracle is happening in real time as both the disciples and the crowd realize that there is more than enough for everyone.  

The feeding of the more than 5000 (remember, 5000 was only the number of the men in attendance, we’re told there were also women and children present as well) gives a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. In the moment when it appears that there is no solution to meeting the basic needs of the people in his presence, Jesus shows that in the kingdom of heaven there is more than enough for all. Trusting in God, having faith in God, allows for this miraculous event to happen. In moments of challenge, Jesus teaches us to discern what’s possible when we look at the world with eyes that are not yet adjusted to the kingdom of heaven.  

There are two examples of challenge in our current contexts that tie into today’s gospel nicely, even if at the outset they seem like two very different problems. 

One example of how we might see today’s gospel applied to our lives is how we conceive of the church (that’s Church with a big “C” – inclusive of all Christianity) in today’s world. There’s a lot of conversation about what the future of the Church will look like these days. As protestant denominations continue to see a decline in membership and individual congregations face the challenges of limited funds, aging buildings, and shrinking numbers, the options available are, in a word, hard. Some congregations, lacking funds and people, have no choice but to close. Others go through the process of merging with one or two other congregations who share life in ministry together. Most places are having a hard time envisioning what the future will bring for them. The studies and research on religious affiliation aren’t encouraging, either. Younger generations aren’t as actively involved in religious organizations as older generations had been at their age. While younger generations may be willing to identify as spiritual, but not religious, they aren’t actively participating in communities of faith in the same ways as previous generations. 

Another concerning aspect of our current global situation is the level of food insecurity found around the world. We see it in our own country and even in our own communities. With inflation increasing the prices of everything, including basic needs like food, food insecurity is on the rise. The latest data from the USDA which is from 2021 indicates that 10.2 % of the population is food insecure with 3.8% having very low food security. These statistics are higher for households with children, those living in metropolitan areas, for black and persons of color households, and for those headed by a single woman.1 Globally, international markets affect the distribution of food to the point that it becomes scarce. African countries in particular share the burden of the most food insecurity.2 The frustrating aspect of all these cases of food insecurity is not that there isn’t enough food to go around to feed the world’s population. No, in fact, we have more than enough food. Global markets and systems which see food as a good rather than a human need prevent access through pricing and distribution.  

Both cases of the future of the church and global food insecurity are just two examples of challenges that feel like desperate situations in our current world. While there is a fear of “not having enough” in both situations – either young people to carry on congregational life or “enough” food to go around for those in need – the reality is that there is enough. Today’s gospel teaches us that what might feel like a hopeless situation actually calls on us to live into the kingdom of heaven mentality that Jesus encourages the disciples to experience. Perhaps the church, as it is now, is in the process of changing and in a place where it needs to more actively meet the needs of those marginalized or who have felt excluded. Some of these communities already exist, and their impact is greatly felt by the surrounding community and those whom the church may not usually reach. While we might not be able to affect change on a global level when it comes to food insecurity, there are opportunities to engage the local community in efforts to ease the stress of food insecurity for all. 

One such opportunity which ties together both of these issues in a movement within Mainline Protestant denominations within the past 10-15 years. Recently, upon the suggestion of a graduate student here at Marsh Chapel, I read the book We Will Feast by Kendall Vanderslice. In it, Vanderslice, a gastronomist who studied here at BU, explores the dinner church movement as an alternative church experience which centers worship around a meal that involves the Eucharist. Vanderslice also has a keen interest in theology, most recently identifying within the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, but also having experienced other types of worship throughout her life. In her words, her book “explores what happens when we eat together as an act of worship,” through various case studies of churches who incorporate a meal as part of their liturgy (21). As a gastronomy student, she was interested in seeing how food was intertwined with faith and how new communities were forming with feeding people as part of their goals. As she states “ God’s love for the beloved creation God called it good, and in the narrative that continues through Jesus, humanity received a ministry of meals.” (3) Eating, or feasting, is central to the church’s history, including in today’s gospel. 

Vanderslice’s case studies include a variety of congregations – some located in storefronts in urban centers, welcoming all who want a meal and community to join in, and some in actual gardens, where the emphasis on connecting the land and what it produces becomes a bigger aspect of the meal. Instead of the standard stock liturgy she experienced in her regular congregation, she was welcomed into communities which shared the responsibilities of preparing and eating a meal together while also having an opportunity to hear scripture and participate in communion. Every aspect of the meal came from the community – from the bakers who made the bread from scratch to those who would come to set the tables and prepare the food, to those who would cleanup afterward. People were encouraged to have conversation and to share in the intimate act of eating with one another. In Vanderslice’s words “something powerful happens at the table.” (4) People go from strangers to opening up to each other in conversation and taking the time to be fully present to one another during the meal. They share in the bread. They serve each other the wine or grape juice. They provide sustenance, physically, socially, and spiritually. As relationships form, divisions that may have previously existed begin to dissolve and the body of Christ becomes one again. 

Furthermore, dinner church changes the way in which one thinks about the eucharist. Eating is a central part of Jesus ministry; It is also a central part of our own worship. Remember that in today’s gospel, we encounter the familiar scene of Jesus blessing the bread and breaking it, which will be echoed in the narrative of the last supper. Tying this act to our own celebration of the eucharist reminds us that we are not only spiritually fulfilled when we come to the table, but that we also have a responsibility to show compassion and care to others to make sure that they are physically filled and able to live full lives. 

Will every community benefit from hosting dinner church? No, of course not. Vanderslice herself does not think that all churches would be better off if they became dinner churches. But, she tempers this opinion with a statement: 

“I do, however, believe that every church and every Christian should understand the power of food and should expand their vision of what Jesus intended when asking his followers to eat and drink in remembrance of him. And I do believe these examples of worship around the table should inspire thoughtful reflection about who feels welcome or unwelcome in our churches, whom we see and whom we fail to see, who leaves lonely and who leaves grounded in community.” (166) 

Jesus’ ministry is steeped in feeding and taking care of those in need. In so much of our holy scripture, God comes to people in moments of challenge through feeding – to the Israelites when they were in the desert longing for food with Moses, to the five thousand in the wilderness with Jesus, to the table at the last supper, when Jesus instructs his disciples to feed others just as he is feeding them. 

Today we will celebrate the Eucharist with one another. As we do, I urge you to think about what it means when Jesus tells us to “do this in remembrance of me.” While we are spiritually fed, how can we aid others in being spiritually, socially, and physically fed? Jesus instructs us that when we have some, we should be willing to share with all. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like. 

“Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’” 


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students 

July 2


By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 10:40–42

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The text of this sermon is not available at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience.

-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students 

May 14

This I Believe 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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John 14:15–21

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Text of the reflections is unavailable at this time.

April 23

Reflections for Earth Day

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 24:13-35

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Good morning! It is good to be with you again on this Sunday filled with April showers (or downpours as the case may be).  

We live in an era during which most of our lives are mediated through screens. We order goods, interact with others, and even learn new skills from our computers, smartphones, and the like. Person-to-person interaction might be more limited than any other time in history – even transactions that take place in person can be mediated through an app on your phone. I, for one, am an avid user of the Dunkin’ app to get my coffee on the go, limiting my interaction with others to only having to go into the store to pick up my beverage and leave.  

One thing about having so much of life distilled to screens is that it can distort your expectations. People can photoshop images to make themselves look completely different. Businesses can display an item claiming certain qualities that are not, in fact, true. Step-by-step tutorials may overestimate your abilities, or have unclear directions, leading to undesirable outcomes. For example, you might be familiar with the idea of Pinterest Fails, or the meme of “Expectation vs. Reality” or “what I ordered vs. what I got” in which people display the way something was supposed to look or turn out and then how it actually appeared. It’s such a popular concept that there’s a whole Netflix series, “Nailed it” that features armature competitors attempting to recreate professional-level baked goods. Personally, I can’t watch that kind of show without cringing, but a lot of people enjoy watching it. The same expectation vs. reality distress is realized through online ordering. A photo online doesn’t necessarily match the item in reality. The memes associated with this phenomenon are meant to evoke a laugh – the reality is so unlike the picture-perfect expectation image that you have to wonder what went wrong in the manufacturing process; or how someone could possibly sell something so unlike the product they are advertising. In any case, people set their expectations high and are disappointed when they are not met. 

As we live into this Easter season, we are greeted with the familiar stories of Jesus’ appearances. We know how these stories go, and what to expect from Jesus and those he is revealed to. First to Mary at the tomb, who did not recognize Jesus until he said her name. Then, in last week’s gospel, Jesus appeared to the disciples in the room in which they were hiding on the evening of his resurrection. Thomas at first missed out and then witnessed the resurrected Christ after his friends told him about Jesus’ return. Here again this week, we return to the day of resurrection. Cleopas and the other disciple are walking the road to Emmaus, deep in conversation about the topic of the day, Jesus’ death at the hands of the authorities. 

Walking, whether to get somewhere or for pleasure, requires time. For many, in today’s world, it seems like an inefficient way to get around. However, walking as a means of transportation has some benefits to it, aside from improving your health. It's amazing what kinds of conversations you can have on a walk with someone. Something about the constantly changing background, the movement of your body, the physical closeness without touching, and perhaps even the ability to not have to look someone in the eye as you speak allows for conversations to flow. It seems easier in the movement of the moment to share plans and expectations, to discuss the goings-on of the day and the frustrations, the joys, to share in a moment with someone.  

During their walk, the disciples encounter a stranger who we know to be Jesus. Surprised that this person has not heard of the major news of the day – Jesus’ death and resurrection – they proceed to not only narrate what happened but to share their hopes, their expectations, of what Jesus as the Messiah would have meant to them. In verse 21 we hear their expectations “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.” They understand that Jesus was to be a redeemer. That he was to be raised on the third day, as he had promised. But perhaps their expectations of what a redeemer should look like, what the process of redemption would be, wasn’t in line with what the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There was no sudden transformation, no complete shift in reality that upended the order of things. Instead, life went on as it had, or at least it felt that way to them. There wasn’t any proof that Jesus had actually risen from the dead, at least not any that they fully trusted (the women did see him, but the disciples didn’t seem to trust their account…which is a whole other sermon). Their hopes were dashed. They retreated from Jerusalem back to Emmaus. 

Jesus, meanwhile, continues to do what he has always done in his ministry. He teaches. He interprets the scriptures for them from the time of Moses so that they might come closer to understanding what God is doing through Jesus. Much like preachers of today, Jesus is helping to clarify the scriptures for his audience, even if they don’t fully understand the message. There are many times when we might feel as though the scripture is too dense for our understanding. That the word alone may not be enough for us to understand God’s nature. The good news is that Jesus meets us where we are and reveals God’s nature to us even if we are do not fully understand. Jesus takes the time to teach the two disciples on the road to Emmaus what the meaning of the scriptures are in regards to his own presence on earth. He does not require them to enter a special location, to come to him, to offer something for this knowledge. Instead, he shows up walking alongside them. 

Like so many times throughout the scriptures, these disciples continue to miss the point of what they have learned and observed throughout Jesus’ ministry.  They do not sense that he is the person they had come to know through his teachings and actions throughout the land. They are unaware as to the reality of the situation. The gospel’s retelling of this encounter tracks with how Jesus is presented in Luke – never quite what anyone is expecting. Upending and reversing the expectations of what a teacher and a leader should do and be for others. 

The disciples who are walking along with Jesus, hearing him speak and interpret the scriptures with regard to himself, are so caught up in what they think the Messiah should have been or should have appeared to be that they fail to see what is around them. It is only after they have their eyes spiritually opened during the breaking of the bread that they understand who Jesus is and that he is standing right in front of them. Just as quickly, he disappears, not giving them a chance to engage with the risen Christ. In their reflection afterward, the comment on how they felt when Jesus was in conversation with them on their walk. They felt something, a burning in their hearts, but ignored that feeling because it didn’t align with what they were expecting. Sometimes our physical intuition guides us toward the direction of what might not be reasonable, but what is spiritually significant. 

Why is it the breaking of the bread that helps them finally fully understand who Jesus is? Now, we may automatically connect Jesus breaking the bread with our own ritual acts – the familiarity of Holy Communion. An experience in which we expect to feel a closeness to Christ. It’s  unlikely that these disciples would have been at the last supper – at the end of this scripture passage they return to the eleven who, while in hiding, had been a part of that meal. Cleopas and the other disciple would not have made the connection with Jesus’ words to the disciples about the bread and wine having significance after Jesus’ death. In this circumstance, the breaking of bread was an everyday occurrence at a meal. It is in the familiar and mundane that Jesus is revealed for who he is. The combination of the hearing the scripture explained and the physical act of the bread being broken provides the basic sacramental theology essential to worship. Jesus comes to us not in some grand and glorious fashion, but in the basic practices that constitute everyday life. Walking, talking, eating. Christ comes to us not in some glorious triumphant return, but in a place least expected. Alongside us, at the table. 

This may lead us to question: where are we encountering Jesus? How is God present to us today? What are our expectations about our relationship with God? 

As you probably know, yesterday was Earth Day. A day when we are encouraged to think about our care for the Earth. Many people take time to volunteer in cleanup events, like the one hosted along the Charles River each year. Others take time to educate themselves about their local flora and fauna, or at least spend some part of the day outside. We are often entreated to reflect on the beauty of the Earth, on pristine wilderness. Protection of nature seems to be “out there,” far away from our lives. In church, we are reminded to be good stewards of creation, especially on this day. I mean, if we can celebrate the earth on this one day a year, we’re covered, right?  

You know I don’t believe that. I suspect many of you don’t believe that either. Many of us recognize the challenges that climate change is already creating in our country and around the world. Take for instance, the record rainfall in California in the past few months. Or the flooding in Fort Lauderdale that dropped over two feet of rain in a twenty-four hour period. Or the drought conditions in Northern Italy.  Our climate and weather patterns are already shifting. Climate change is no longer a future problem; it is a now problem. But it is so overwhelming, we might imagine that if we continue to go along with our everyday patterns of behavior, we won’t actually have to face the consequences. 

For example, in a poll done in 2021 by the Yale program on Climate Change Communication, an estimated 72% of Americans believed that climate change, or global warming, is happening. However, when asked if global warming would harm them personally, only 47% agreed. So it’s happening, but it won’t bother me. It will however bother other people, like other U.S. citizens (59% agreed to that statement), and those in developing countries (68% agreed to that statement).1 Many believe that it is too late for them to have an impact on climate change – younger generations have more energy and excitement around the issue, so therefore they will be the ones who will “figure it out.” The expectation is that climate change, although a reality, will not be something we need to personally contend with. 

The truth is, because we are all connected to the earth and its systems, we will feel the effects of climate change. It will cause prices to increase on goods due to floods or droughts in food-producing regions. Our weather patterns will also change, creating extremes in heat and cold. While many of us who are not on the margins of society may feel that we can easily adapt to these changes, those with fewer resources will bear the brunt.  And although we might hope that the earth might heal itself or that other people are going to solve the problem, we must face the fact that we have to do something. Human beings are the biggest problem. We are also a part, not separate from the creation. 

Our ways of life, particularly in the developed world, do not encourage us to change our behaviors in light of climate change. Much like the disciples who have an expectation of what Jesus’ return and redemption will look like based on their own experiences and status quo ways of thinking, we have a hard time envisioning a world outside of our current experience. Most people are not willing to give up the conveniences that we have become accustomed to in modern society. If you remember back to the beginning of this sermon, I, too, enjoy the convenience of picking up a cup of coffee that comes in a disposable container from time to time. Change, especially drastic change, is scary, and the realities of climate change are so overwhelming that we’d rather not think about it. 

I posit to you that the anxiety we experience about climate change is much like the burning the disciples experienced when they heard Jesus teaching. We sense within our bodies that we should be reacting or acting to the situation, we just aren’t sure what that is, so we avoid it and pretend as though it isn’t there. We also may feel isolated in those feelings. However, we are not alone in our fears. There are many others around us who share these same feelings. While the future may not be what we expected, there is possibility of renewal and resurrection. We may be hoping for some obvious answer to the problems of climate change that will fix everything quickly without demanding too much of our time and energy, but in actuality the answers might just be standing right in front of us. We might just have to slow down, unplug, and fully sense the world around us as a part of us. Go for a walk. Have a conversation. Learn something new. Share a meal. Feel connected. 

In an article in the New York Times from January of this year, the well known environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben was interviewed with a young climate activist, Xiye Bastida, about the future of the climate movement. The point of the article was to bring together the experiences of over 30 years of activism through McKibben with the growing climate interests of Gen Z represented by 20 year old Bastida. Both noted that the single most important thing that is needed in combatting climate change is hope that is grounded in action. Bastida reflected on what she sees to be her purpose in leading activism at such a young age. She states: 

“I love this quote that says the way that you spend your life is the way that you spend your days. Every single choice that you make builds up everything about your legacy, and who you are, and the purpose that you’ve put in your life. So I know that every single day I have agency. And I know it’s the simplest concept that the future is made of our present actions. But when we really think about it, we’re not just living our lives; we can actually shape the way in which other lives are lived. That is a responsibility that I have taken. And I want my life to have been a joyous life, so I am modeling the world that I want to see.”2 

It's true that this is a simple idea – the things we do today will shape our future. The attitude of not just living our lives but realizing that we have agency to shape the kind of world we live in makes sense. Expanding that idea beyond the self if what is needed for the future of our planet, however. It is in our attitudes and actions every day that can lead us to effective change. 

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we know that the impossible is possible. Not only that, we know that God is present to us in the most unexpected of places, even death on a cross. If we are open to moments of connection with others, including the world that we are a part of, we embody the risen Christ. When we respect the creation, we enact the love shown to us through God. Resurrection is not an escape from this life to some other existence. It is the fulfillment of life leading to the full redemption of the entire cosmos. Resurrection encourages us to be in community, to share the good news, to break bread with one another and listen fully to how we can be in service to each other, including the earth. It may not be what we expected, but it is what we need. 


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

January 8

An Epiphany Reflection

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 2:1-12

Click here to hear just the sermon

Good morning. Well, we made it through another holiday season. In this past week, many of us have taken down our Christmas decorations and reclaimed space taken up by Christmas trees, restoring our living spaces to their normal appearance. Indeed, here at Marsh Chapel, our festive greenery and tree have been removed, reminding us that the Christmas season has ended. Most of us have returned to our regular schedules after holiday celebrations, gathering with friends and family, traveling (or attempting to travel, in some cases), and perhaps having the time to lose yourself in the ease of a week without a schedule (if you are so lucky to have had that time off). As we readjust to life in 2023, a new year, we can easily fall back into the routinization of our existence. Wake up, feed ourselves and maybe others, commute to/from work, go to work or school, have some time with others, tend to ourselves, go to sleep. Life in January, in sometimes the coldest time of the year in Massachusetts, although not this year, can turn into a drudgery.

This time after Christmas can be somewhat of a letdown. I’m reminded of my mother, who always bemoans the fact that society wants her to move on so quickly from Christmas as soon as December 25th is over. Many folks take their decorations down on December 26th. Holiday programming stops on many tv networks shortly after the 25th ends. People move on to preparing for the new year and leave the giving nature of Christmas behind. But here, in church, we are reminded that Christmas tidings are just the beginning of our church year. As has often been quoted by Dean Hill time and time again, Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” reminds us that once the celebrations of the holiday have ended, our work as Christians starts.

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, a day which typically signals the end of the Christmas season. While Epiphany was on this past Friday, January 6th, as it always is, today we will recognize our entry into this season of the church calendar. Epiphany is the time in the church year when we focus on the manifestation of God’s grace and love in the world and have time to reflect on what Jesus’ presence in the world means for us.In the lectionary, the list of appointed readings set for each Sunday in the church year, typically this Sunday is a celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Often, unless there is a separate church service set aside for January 6th or if Epiphany happens to fall on a Sunday, we don’t hear or read the texts appointed to this day.

Perhaps that’s why our understanding of the Magi’s travels to Bethlehem have been somewhat distorted over time. How many of you didn’t really pay attention to the gospel as it was read because you thought, oh, I know this one, it’s one of the greatest hits from the Bible? The wise men go to the manger and they bring Jesus gifts. How many of you were a little surprised hearing Matthew’s account of this well-known story? The truth is the account from Matthew is more political than we remember, while also vaguer about timelines and the identities of the magi.

The story of the magi may have indelible memories for us. Some may think of the nativity scene figures of three men carrying gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, sometimes depicted as kings or “wise men” coming from the east to pay homage to the baby Christ child in the manger. In my family growing up, we were very careful with the nativity scene. Our figures were made from olive wood; the manger itself made of natural materials including moss and sticks. Baby Jesus didn’t arrive in the manger until Christmas Eve. The wise men certainly did not arrive from the East until Epiphany. The timing of these apparitions made clear to us the story of Christ’s birth and the significance it would hold for the whole world. The figures were more than just a decoration; they were an educational device used to remind us that there was a progression of events leading to the revelation of Christ’s divinity and kingship.

While our traditional understanding of the three wise men still offers us a valuable account for recognizing the importance of Jesus’ birth, the source material offers us much more. First, the story doesn’t say that there were three of them. The magi aren’t identified as men. They aren’t identified as kings. They aren’t identified as “wise” even. Some scholars believe that the Magi followed Zoroastrianism, or at the very least, they were astrologers. They consulted the movement of the stars as a guide and as a way of interpreting the world around them. In their day, they were not as revered as we might assume, but instead were outsiders from the mainstream. Their approaches to religious observance were not the norm, especially coming into Jerusalem and eventually to Bethlehem. For them to be the ones to recognize Jesus for who he is speaks to the kind of ministry Jesus will lead, reaching those who are on the margins of society. Their appearance also speaks to God’s power, as they heed the message told to them in their dreams to not return to Herod, but to go another way home after visiting Jesus. God comes to them, even though they are not affluent, powerful, or members of the Jewish community.

In contrast, King Herod stands as a threat to Jesus. Herod rules over the land and has political ties to Rome. He feels threatened by the arrival of one who is the Davidic Messiah, a child whose coming seems to be foretold in the scriptures. Additionally, it is not only Herod who is frightened by the news of Jesus birth, but the whole of Jewish society, particularly the chief priests and scribes. They understand that this occurrence has significance when looking at the scriptures. A change in the status quo of the power dynamics could be happening if the news about Jesus’ birth is true. Herod and all those in charge don’t know what this will mean for their status.

The Magi appear in Jerusalem because they assumed royalty would be born in such an important place. When offered the chance to help the Mag, Herod provides them with a sort of quid-pro-quo. In order for them to get the information they need, Herod requests a report back from these traveling astrologers. Upon confirming the location of the birth of such a child through the chief priests and scribes, Herod instructs the Magi to return to him with his exact location. He states that it is so he may also go pay homage to this king. We know, however, that Herod has ulterior, harmful motives for this information. Herod’s power is threatened by this new King. His fear in losing his power will later lead to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape his cruelty after he orders all the male children 2 years of age and under to be killed.

This retelling of Epiphany is much more violent and political than what we share in our basic nativity scene. But it highlights the fact that God’s incarnation through Jesus subverts the powers as they stand. Nothing about Jesus’ birth or this interaction with the Magi is how it should be if it were dictated by the norms of Jewish society in this timeframe. The arrival of Jesus is a shakeup, a disruption of power. As we observed throughout Luke’s gospel in the previous church year, the reign of the kingdom of God comes to lift the lowly, free the prisoner, heal the sick, and seek justice for the oppressed. The light that Jesus brings into the world illuminates the dark places and allows us to see things how they really are. It is able to bring those from afar, who are completely foreign to God’s reality, and show them the God’s power. It demonstrates what power and corruption can do; the violence it can bring out in those who feel threatened or those afraid of change. It shows every day people that they can and should have hope because God loves the world so much that God becomes incarnate.

The  Rev. William Flippin Jr., an ELCA pastor in Southeastern Pennsylvania, sums up this subversive story more succinctly that I can:

“Jesus, the light of the world, starts life as a political refugee. Our Savior is spirited out of the country on back roads traveling RWM (that’s riding while a Messiah). The infant Jesus is given a head start by the magi, pagan people of color, who defy an imperial edict and disobey King Herod’s command that they report back to him after completing their visit to the infant Jesus, thereby involving themselves in civil disobedience and political subversiveness.

In the light and darkness of Epiphany, we are called to be spiritual and political activists, to perpetuate the true revelation that Jesus is the light of the world—the light that not only illuminates but also reveals and uncovers those things done in the dark.”[1]

One other thing that might seem obvious to us, but is reiterated through our scripture readings today, particularly in the gospel and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, is that the incarnation brings together people of all backgrounds. Epiphany is about revealing the true nature of Jesus, his divinity and status as “Lord of all” as the magi, who come from a distant land, have Jesus’ holy nature revealed to them. Indeed, the whole of Matthew will end with the Great Commission, to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that the message of the gospel is for the Gentiles and that it is his task to deliver it. The message of the grace of God comes for everyone, not just those who hold power. God’s care for the world as a whole is what brings Jesus into being.

As an increasingly globalized community, the message here is to not create divisions over belief or identity, but that the kingdom of God is available to all. The kingdom of God is unlike anything we can imagine, but it has the power to unite rather than divide. Let us not be sucked into the language of insider and outsider, but rather willing to receive others and meet them where they are. God reveals the location of Jesus to the magi through the stars – an aspect of their own tradition. God meets the magi where they are in order to reveal God’s self to them. There is no expectation that the Magi will listen or necessarily follow what God does as there is no coercion present in the story, but God appears through a dream to issue a warning. They choose to accept and recognize the nature of what is presented to them in the form of the Christ child. Jesus’ birth creates a new way of being for the world continuously, something we also experience in our own baptisms, as each day we live into the reality of being claimed as God’s own.

Epiphany then, is not just a day on the Christian calendar. It is a whole season that urges us to constantly be aware of the unfolding and illuminating discovery of God’s manifestation in the world. It is a global invitation to come face-to-face with the revelation of God in the world. The frenzied feeling of the holiday season may be behind us, but it is the threshold into a season that brings to light the ways in which God shows up in the world through Jesus. Our task is to take the hope found in a child in the most unlikely of circumstances who comes to redeem us and use it to fuel our desire to realize God’s kingdom on earth.

What will be our epiphany experience this year?  Will it be sudden, like the star appearing in the sky to lead the magi? Or will it be a slow unfurling, like the way God continues to show love and grace in the world? Maybe we’ve already had experiences like these in our lives. Have we been willing to share these portions of our faith journeys with others, providing an entry point into our spiritual lives for people who may have yet to experience God’s presence in their lives? How can we meet people where they are to share in God’s love and have epiphany moments of their own?

One way that we can prepare ourselves for our personal or collective epiphanies and be reminded of those we’ve experienced is through worship. Hearing the scriptures, really listening to the way Jesus ministers to others can help us to better connect ourselves with God’s presence in our world. At times, this might be challenging, as Jesus’ ways cause us to resist his message because it challenges our conceptions of ourselves. It may call on us to question powers that be, powers that benefit us, for the good of those who are oppressed. It may cause us to completely change course, as God’s appearance to the Magi led them home a different way. But at the same time, it may reveal something new to us that will help us to alter our worldview to one that is closer to God’s Kingdom. Remaining open the possibilities of the hope found in the birth of Jesus. When we encounter those epiphany moments, whether they are sudden or drawn-out, we can better identify God’s work in the world.

We come back to Thurman’s writing again. The work of Christmas is found in Epiphany. The ministry we can offer to others through seeking justice, shedding light on systems of oppression, helping to heal the broken, finding peace. At a time when we are returning back to the routines of our lives, making ourselves available to spontaneous epiphanies or to recognize those slowly developing epiphanies in our lives.

In conclusion, I’d like to share a prayer offered by the Women of the ELCA in their resource, “Epiphany: Unfolding the Discovery.” This prayer is meant to serve as a guide through this holy season, urging forward in hope. May we find hope in each day as we settle into this season of Epiphany, when our lives return to their normal hustle and bustle and it is easy to overlook the ways in which God is revealed.

Let us pray:

May we each day open the window of our worlds, inviting the fresh Light of Epiphany to flood us with hope, to bring us fresh insight, and to fill us with grateful joy. May we see the world around us with new creation eyes, filled with potential and brimming with promise. May our lives be a continuous unfolding into God’s grace, revealing new vistas that expand our faith horizons. In Jesus’ name, we pray, and by his name we are saved. Amen.

[1] Rev. William Flippin, Jr. “The Revelation of Epiphany,” Living Lutheran, January 6, 2017.


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

September 18

Making a Way

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 16:1-13

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Greetings to you on this international student Sunday! I am very excited that we are able to return to this tradition of recognizing our international student population this year, for the first time in three years. The start of this school year has been a return to more normal operations – as the Dean has said on multiple occasions you can feel a certain buzz in the air that hasn’t been present for a while. That includes having gatherings together, seeing each other’s faces, and having opportunities to connect with one another. As we come together in worship, we have the opportunity to hear the scriptures together, to learn together, and to refuel ourselves to go out into the world and share God’s love with others. 

That being said, this week’s gospel is a doozy. I mean that with all sincerity. If you feel lost having just heard or read it to yourself, you’re not alone. What is going on in this scripture passage? We get a clear “lesson” from the parable at the end of the reading – “You cannot serve God and wealth.” But what is going on in the rest of this story? It seems less clear than many of the parables we’ve heard before. I am not joking when every commentary I read for this week’s gospel said that this was an especially difficult passage to preach on, mainly because we are trying to read something out of context. We aren’t as familiar with the economic goings-on of the first century. We don’t know if there is deeper meaning in why Jesus tells this parable and what the author of Luke’s gospel intended in adding it to the scriptures. In fact, many commentaries I consulted suggested there were up to seven different approaches you could take in trying to interpret this scripture, but that no one is really sure what the original intention may have been. It’s much easier to speculate as to why this story is present in an academic commentary than it is to bring the text to life in our current context, but we’ll find our way through together. 

So, let’s start with a summary because the text is confusing upon first reading. There is a manager who reports to a rich man. His job is to collect what is owed to the rich man, but he hasn’t been doing it. The rich man effectively fires him because he hasn’t been doing his job, which would appear to be a reasonable justification to fire someone. We don’t know why the manager hasn’t been collecting what is owed to the rich man. The thought of losing his job puts the manager into crisis mode, a bad situation. He realizes that if he really does lose his job, he will be required to either do hard labor (which he claims to be unfit for) or to beg (which he is too proud to do). In this crisis situation, he must find a way out. 

The manager devises a plan – if he goes to the debtors and offers them a lower amount of what they owe, they may be more willing to pay it. Not only that, but they may be grateful to the manager for the reduction he has offered them. If he is to lose his job, these people are possibly the ones whom he will need to rely on for his survival. An expectation of reciprocity, a little “I’ll scratch your back if you will scratch mine,” fuels his deal-making. What originally seemed like a dead-end crisis becomes a win-win-win situation. It turns out, even though the manager has not collected all that is owed to the rich man, the rich man is happy with the way the manager handled the situation. Imagine that! The original reason that the rich man had fired the manager was because he was not bringing in the earnings the rich man though he deserved, and the rich man is still not getting all that he thinks he deserves from the situation. However, the rich man seems to better understand what the manager is doing to secure his job. If the rich man were to go back to the debtors and request the remainder of what he thinks he is owed, the debtors might not be so happy with him. The manager has now flexed his own power in creating a situation where the rich man must accept what he is given or else he will look bad to his debtors. In his response, the rich man praises the manager for being a shrewd business person.  He’s proven some level of trust to the rich man. Conversely, the debtors are happy with the manager and the rich man because they owe less money and will perhaps be more cooperative with them in the future because of this gesture. Win-win-win. 

All’s well that ends well, right? I mean Jesus even seems to suggest to the disciples that they can learn a thing or two from the manager about how to utilize shrewd or prudent behavior to their advantage. It’s not what we would expect Jesus to say, given the myriad of examples of how his parables work. What’s strange about this passage is that it’s not like a typical parable from Jesus. Usually when Jesus is telling a parable, there’s clear exemplars of one position or another. They provide examples of what God’s kingdom looks like, what justice and righteousness on earth could appear to be. But here, it almost seems as though there is no exemplar for behavior. If anything, it gives us a view of what everyday human existence looks like. The manager is making a way in a bad situation. The way he chooses ends up benefiting everyone, but it’s definitely not grounded in ultimate justice or righteousness. If anything, his shrewd behavior seems to be motivated more by self-preservation than a sense of what is right or wrong. He is looking toward his future alone instead of being stuck in the present moment in making a plan for himself. 

It is our instinct to protect ourselves in moments of crisis. When faced with the unexpected, it’s often hard to see past the circumstances of the immediate moment to think clearly. Sometimes all we want is to fix the problem immediately, whatever it is so that the crisis will stop. Most times, it’s not that simple to accomplish. Like the manager in the story who weighs his options if he really has lost his job, occasionally we are led on a somewhat precarious path of making the best out of what we’re experiencing. It is often also true that in these crisis situations, we receive help from the most unexpected places or in unexpected ways. For us, we remember that even in those lowest moments, we are not alone, but that God’s grounding presence abides with us. 

In our existence as human beings on this planet, as social creatures who must make their way through ups and downs in the context of other people’s behaviors, we have complex matrices of negotiation and decision making that we must undertake. Not one of us operates in the extremes of good and bad. Instead, we are constantly negotiating the realities of our lives. Our own needs, our commitments to others, and our faithfulness to God. It’s messy and complicated and a lot harder to live out our values than it is to claim them. Our interactions with others are never 100% neutral. Even though we might not want to think of ourselves as been shrewd in how we deal with others, there are times when the expectation of reciprocity motivates us to act in certain ways. We do favors for others, sometimes selflessly, but sometimes with the knowledge that the favor will be returned. “You owe me” we might say to a friend or a colleague upon assisting them in a crisis situation. Or we feel indebted to others for the favors or kindnesses they’ve shown to us and are more willing to assist them when they need it in the future. In crisis situations, it’s good to know who your friends are. 

Similarly, we might try our best in a situation that’s difficult to negotiate, but feel our efforts weren’t enough to solve the problem. There have been many times in my life when I’ve felt that I could have done so much more in a tricky situation. Upon review with a friend or a loved one, the refrain of “you did the best you could, given the circumstances.” There are many big-picture issues in our world today which might make us contemplate whether we are doing enough to meet the moment. Global issues, like the suffering created by the war in Ukraine, climate change, and participation in exploitative economic practices create anxiety and worry. We may feel like Jeremiah in today’s Hebrew Bible reading, crying out in the grief we feel about our earthly situation. When God is not centered in the community, all hope of establishing the kingdom on earth fails. 

An important thing to remember in this story is that we are talking about two different economies. The economy of earth, the children of this age, and God’s economy, the children of the light. As has been reiterated by so many of the parables Jesus has told during his travels to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel, the kingdom of God is quickly coming, but it does not operate under the same systems which human beings have created for themselves. What the disciples can learn from the example of the manager is that they do not have to be victims of circumstance. They can change the systems that exist in order to establish new patterns of relationship. Essentially, that is what Jesus is teaching them to do through his ministry. God’s kingdom is all about dismantling the human-created patterns of behavior that cause harm and oppression to establish justice and righteousness. Even if the manager is not setting out to completely overhaul the economic system he is beholden to, in his small way he has altered the relationships that exist within that system. By making friends with the debtors and reducing what is owed, he establishes a relationship of trust and reciprocity with them, not merely a transactional relationship. 

We return to the lesson we are supposed to be learning from this parable, that one cannot worship or serve both God and wealth. This phrase might evoke a sense that Christians are not to be concerned with money; an idealized version of discipleship in which one is not tied to the economic practices of this world. However, for most Christians that’s not possible. We are human beings who exist in the world and we have vocations that require us to operate in the economic systems of our communities. However, as Christians, we should understand that the wealth, power, or privilege we might possess in any given situation are to be met with humility and generosity of spirit in witnessing to the needs of others. For as quickly as wealth or power can come, it can also be lost just as quickly. Our understanding of wealth must rest in a deeper commitment to justice. Rev. Verity A. Jones, in a reflection on this passage from Luke states this: 

Despite all the potential ethical and practical pitfalls and dangers of wealth accumulation, Jesus is suggesting in this reading that it is possible to manage possessions and money in ways that can lead us into life with God. The key, the starting point for knowing how to do this, is to know the endpoint -- to know what life with God is like. And if we use possessions to gain that life with God, Jesus may commend us, as he did the dishonest manager in the reading. Being shrewd, in this case, means using what we have for God's purposes, rather than squandering what we have for no gain at all.1 

Although the manager’s motivations for why he helped lower the amounts owed may not have been purely aligned with the mission statement that Jones puts forth in her assessment of what we are to take from the text, the point is that even small actions like these can help in moving toward what God’s kingdom looks like. 

You probably heard the news story this week about the asylum seekers who unexpectedly landed in Martha’s Vineyard after being sent north by the Governor of Florida. Viewing Martha’s Vineyard as a beacon of wealth, this attempt to either embarrass or prove a point about sanctuary communities for immigrants not really being prepared seemed to backfire. Even though the summer population of the island does tend toward wealthy, in the off-season, the island is populated by a small community used to supporting each other through the winter. The community, gathered around St. Andrew’s Episcopal church where the migrants were housed, provided aid for the mostly Venezuelan group at a moment’s notice. A situation in which no one was prepared for what was to happen – not the immigrants themselves, who had been promised housing, jobs, and help with immigration when they arrived in New England, nor the community who had no advanced knowledge of the immigrants arrival. However, they were able to make the best out of the situation that they could. It wasn’t perfect; the community couldn’t guarantee the asylum that the immigrants were searching for, but they provided for the basic needs of this small group in a moment of confusion and desperation with what they had. It may not have been perfect, but it provided relief and aid in a complex situation. 

Today’s gospel teaches us about the patience required for us to make a way that leads us toward justice in our complex world. When crises arise, we do the best we can with the situation at hand, remembering our faith and acting prudently. Our faith in God provides the only relationship which requires nothing from us, but we cannot live our lives with the expectation that all actions we undertake will be completely selfless. We should feel called to reflect on what we have; what wealth, what power, what influence we can muster in shaping the relationships around us toward God’s purposes. If we can find ways to make our systems more just, so that people and our world are not exploited, we can inch toward the reality that Jesus foretells in God’s kingdom.  


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

July 3

Go on your way

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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The Summer at Marsh chapel is a slower time of year – our weekly programming takes a hiatus in between semesters. We spend our time focusing on planning for the next academic year and continuing to worship together each Sunday morning. One of the regular opportunities we have for student engagement over the summer is during orientation sessions. BU is a large institution, which means each entering class is several thousand students. In order to accommodate the number of new students and give them and their parents the appropriate amount of information they need before they start their first year, there are several sessions throughout the summer where students meet other first year students, do team building activities, and go to sessions about student accounting, safety, and general college life. Our involvement during orientation is to welcome students and explain what religious life entails at the university. We offer information about the many religious life student groups we have and our times for worship and engagement at Marsh Chapel. This year, we’ve been doing this by setting up a table on the plaza and offering Marsh Chapsticks and candy to students. Honestly, results have always been varied when we do this. Religion isn’t necessarily a flashy draw to young adults. Most of the time people avert their gaze away from us when we make eye contact or say “Hello” but then walk hurriedly past.

If you’ve ever been in a position of engaging the general public to get interested in a cause, your place of work, or even just to take some free promotional items, you know what a challenge it can be. People are wary of strangers approaching them, as they should be in a lot of cases. Trusting someone you’ve never met before is difficult. Making sure they’re not trying to deceive or harm you should be a concern. When you’re on the side of trying to provide that information to people it’s even harder to get them to engage you. You have to be non-threatening. You have to invite them over and say “no problem” or “thanks for your time” if they say no to you. Your job is not to force them to listen to you, but to offer an invitation for engagement which they can take or leave.

If they do take up your offer to talk, you have to be willing to listen to what they say and offer your truth to them in a way that isn’t judgmental or coercive. If it’s information they want, then give them that information. If it’s deeper questions about what you do, try to answer that in a way they can understand. Every once in a while you make a connection – someone who is looking for a place of worship, looking for how to practice their faith now that they're leaving home, or how to go about exploring new or different faiths. Those are the highlights, but more often than not we encounter folks who are sometimes even embarrassed to talk to us because, in their own extremely apologetic words “Sorry, I’m not religious!” The expectation that there’s going to be some sort of judgment from us as to whether someone is religious or not might seem difficult to grasp for those who are involved in our community at Marsh, but in the wider world the judgment for not holding the same beliefs can result in conflict.

As we’ve been exploring Lukan Biblical theology together for the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed Jesus rejected again and again. In the first story, even though Jesus has committed a great act of healing by casting out demons in a man marginalized by society, the community which had rejected the man does not accept Jesus either because they are afraid of the power he possesses. Instead of the man joining the disciples, Jesus tells him to go back to his community and show them what God has done for him. Jesus is rejected but he doesn’t let that stop him from continuing with his ministry. He deploys the man as an apostle, sharing the Good news of God’s kindom with the world.

Last week, at the beginning of our narrative, Jesus sends messengers to a village of Samaritans in order to prepare a place for him to stay. The Samaritans will not allow Jesus to stay as their way of life is so different from the Jewish way of life. In response, John and James want revenge on the Samaritans. How could they not accept Jesus? How could Jesus not be upset? Well, in fact Jesus was upset, but with James and John. They missed the point of what Jesus is trying to do in his ministry, share glimpses of the kingdom of God with those around him. And if people don’t accept it right away, then he moves on to the next village to proclaim his message there. Jesus teaches his disciples about his mission in the world, they follow him, but when left to their own devices, they often miss the mark of what it is they are supposed to be doing.

This week we transition from learning about what discipleship looks like to what it means to be an apostle. Now it is commonplace that people will often use these two terms interchangeably. However, they do mean different things. A disciple is a learner of Jesus. An apostle is one who is sent out by Jesus. The important thing to remember about this is that the two are not independent of each other. Exegetical scholar Brian Stoffregen notes “Discipleship without apostleship leads to stagnation. Apostleship without discipleship leads to burnout. A life-giving faith requires both: the inflow from disciplined learning and the outflow of being sent into the world with a message.” We are called to follow Jesus but we are also called to go out into the world and bring along messages of peace and God’s kindom. Disciples and apostles are two faces on the same coin, bringing the reality of God’s Kindom into the world by living out Christ’s teachings.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus is ready to send out the seventy in pairs to each town as apostles, making the way for him as he will eventually reach each of these towns. Much like discipleship there will be hardship in being an apostle. They are lambs being sent out amongst wolves – the world around them will be hostile to their message. Not only that, but he tells them to go without any sort of supplies and to rely on the hospitality of strangers to survive in each town. They are at the mercy of those they encounter – they are not to conquer in the name of God, but to be welcomed in and show graciousness to their hosts by sharing God’s peace with them. Their goal is simple, to bring news and action of the Kingdom of God into reality for those they encounter. They announce a message of peace, which sometimes will then rest upon those who receive it and sometimes will not. He also indicates that they will possess the ability to heal others and have demons submit to them. These are powers Jesus himself has but as his representatives, they also possess them.

Despite the fact that they have these cosmic gifts, Jesus warns them about rejection and getting lost in their power. Again, they are to bring a message of peace. If their message is not received, they should shake the dirt off of their shoes and move on to the next town (sound familiar from last week’s reading?) They are also not supposed to get too caught up in the power that God has given them. Their power ultimately lies in heaven, in the faith they have in God, not in their ability to cast out demons or heal people. They’re not to revel in these abilities but instead continue doing the work of God’s Kingdom by bringing the love that God shows to the world through Jesus.

Amy G. Oden, a Church History and Spirituality scholar, succinctly states what Jesus’ instructions are to the seventy:

“Jesus does not instruct them to argue, convince, or threaten if they are not welcomed. He does advise them to signal their moving on by shaking dust off their shoes (verse 11). In this way, they are not weighed down by rejection, or paralyzed with trying to figure out what they did wrong or could have done differently to produce a different outcome. Instead, Jesus invites them to move forward in the confidence of these two proclamations, “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.”


Jesus sends the 70 out into the world and this should also be an invitation to us. First, we don’t know who the 70 are. It doesn’t say if they are a specific gender, because we know that Jesus attracted followers regardless of their gender, which means any person can do this work. Second, 70 is a lot of people! This isn’t some select group who can know and share this good news – it’s everyone! Also, he doesn’t expect them to get it right. We know from Jesus’ interactions with the disciples that they often still don’t understand what God or Jesus is up to, even if they are willing to follow Jesus’ teachings. These apostles are sent out with the simplest message and, if they trust in God, they will be able to share that message with others. The 70 apostles will make mistakes because they are human, and human desires are constantly in battle with what God wills for the world – that is the nature of sin.

The power of the apostles evangelism lies in God. It isn’t their responsibility to change what God offers to fit to the demands of the people. Instead their role is to embody God’s peace and to offer the knowledge that God’s kingdom has come near to the people they encounter. As Christians today, this kind of apostleship seems foreign to us. First of all, many of us in mainline protestant denominations, particularly in new England, cringe at the thought evangelism. Perhaps it’s because our culture has repeatedly told us that religion is something you do not discuss in polite company or perhaps because we are challenged by the ways some of our more evangelical brothers and sisters go about evangelizing. But evangelical, despite the connection with more conservative forms of Christianity in the United States actually means “those with good news.” It’s why Martin Luther preferred to use this term to describe his movement in the early years (before others started calling them “Lutherans”) during the protestant reformation, because it was a return to the good news, the Gospel, rather than the abuses of the Catholic church at the time. Jesus is calling the apostles to be evangelicals. We are also called to this task in sharing our experiences of God with others and listening deeply to their stories and experiences.

Despite this, often times evangelism gets corrupted into coercion. In fact looking at our current national situation, it would appear that this coercive type of Christianity has a grip on our national politics. Jesus doesn’t say to argue with people about being a Christian – he says to offer what God has offered and if it is not accepted, move on. The Gospel speaks for itself. Jesus isn’t a part of the powers that be, it’s why he’s constantly reminding the disciples and now the apostles that they are lambs among wolves. Christianity that comes to serve the interests of individuals is not Christianity, it coopts the message of the Gospel, which is to point toward the kingdom of God rather than the powers of individuals here on earth. When people use God as a means to oppress others, they are not proclaiming the Gospel. When they push their ideology on others without considering how it fits into God’s message of peace and what Jesus has taught about the Kingdom of God, it is no longer evangelism on behalf of God. The idea of forcing beliefs on others is not what Jesus instructs. Jesus is not here to declare revenge on those who reject him, he is in the process of establishing a new creation that radically transforms each and every one of us.

God doesn’t grant us dominion over one another – see Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are to work together, not create divisions, in order to fulfill the Gospel. We are made new in Christ and in that newness of creation we develop new ways of relating to one another that look nothing like our human-centered hierarchies. Our mission is to invite people into this new creation; to live in the world in a way that is completely different than anything we can imagine. Our vision of a new creation helps others to become a part of something that is beyond our current comprehension.

It begs the question, how will we show up for God in the world in such a way that others feel welcomed to our community. How can we continue the tradition of brining the Kindom of God near to others that they will feel compelled to learn more? We should be good enough  apostles that we create new disciples, receiving the peace of Christ and experiencing the Kindom of God on their own to then share it with others. We do not to coerce but invite. Not oppress but to liberate through the gospel. Not to harm or conquer, but to share love and healing in a reciprocal relationship. Our conception of evangelism need not be forcing people to submit to the will of God, but instead showing through our actions, our invitations, our mere presence as a Christian that we welcome and affirm all people and encourage them to explore their faith without intimidation.

Going back to the beginning of this sermon, tabling for student attention doesn’t get easier as the years go by. But each year, nevertheless, we meet people, few in number, who find a home in Marsh Chapel. Maybe it’s on Sunday morning, in the choir, or during community dinner on Monday evenings. But what I will tell you is that for most of the students who come to our activities for the first time, they say “wow, how come more people don’t know about this?” That is a question that should stick with you. How come more people don’t know about this? And what can we do to help people recognize the peace offered here in ways that will encourage people to learn more? Marsh Chapel is not perfect, none of us are, but we help create places where students can be their authentic selves and connect to something larger than themselves. We might feel ill equipped to do this work, but Jesus shows us that you don’t need to have anything to be able to share his message with others except an attitude of humility and a willingness to engage people where they are. By living out our faith, by showing hospitality and grace to others, we continue Jesus’ commission to “Go on your way.”


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

June 26

“…But First,”

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 9:51-62

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Good morning. What a week. Any pastor or preacher will tell you that what you think your sermon for Sunday might look like on Monday or Tuesday can be radically different than what actually develops by Saturday evening. Consider this sermon to be the work of the Holy Spirit in a hurting world. Consider it living into the reality of being a person who must navigate between being living in the world that we have created as human beings and a member of God’s eternal kindom. If we’re being extra specific, consider it me living out my Lutheran identity as both sinner and saint, of this world and the next, of one freed by Christ and bound to serve and love my neighbor because of that freedom.

So first, a check in. How are you? If you just said “good” I bet you were just trying to exchange a pleasantry with me. I once had a therapist who would start every session by asking me “how are you?” to which I would reflexively respond – “good.” We had to work on that. So let me try this again, How are you? Take a second to think about it. The world has been an extra difficult place to be in the past few years, if not the past few weeks and months particularly. If you are a woman, a person of color, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, a parent, or any combination of these identities you may be finding it especially difficult right now.  How are you doing? When is the last time you checked in with yourself to really truly explore how you’re feeling? When is the last time you had a conversation with God? When is the last time you felt supported, whole, cared for? When is the last time you felt the Holy Spirit guiding you forward, or took time to see if you could sense it’s work? It may be hard to identify right off the bat. But really think about a time recently when you have felt God’s presence close to you, making things clearer or more obvious.

As we continue our exploration of Lukan theology this third Sunday after Pentecost, we find ourselves on the road. We might think that this passage is more appropriate for Lent – Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem where he will die. But in this season after Pentecost, when we are constantly reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the world, it is helpful to journey along with Jesus and the disciples. These summer months we will journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, meeting people, hearing their stories, and experiencing Jesus’ teachings and love along the way.

When Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans for a place to stay, John and James are upset. In fact, upset might be too timid a word. They want to condemn the Samaritans by having fire rain down upon them from heaven. They are angry. You might relate to them on any number of issues right now when you feel rejected or displeased with something in our society that shakes your core beliefs. John and James are ready to show the Samaritans what they believe God’s power can do – after all Elijah had done this in response to soldiers who had tried to stop his prophetic mission. But Jesus isn’t Elijah. Jesus isn’t bothered by the Samaritans rejection – he has been rejected by his hometown and this rejection by the Samaritans doesn’t appear to be worth his time. His ministry is not one founded on vengeance – it is one focused on restoration and transformation. He continues on his journey. He moves forward. He can only do what he is called to do if he advances to the next village, the next stop along the way, preaching and teaching to each he comes along. Jesus shows us that while sometimes anger and fury are necessary (see Jesus in the temple) that one must also keep in mind what is at the heart of God – a transformational love which will establish a kin-dom far different than anything we experience out of our own creation.

The gospel lesson once again leads us to see how radically different God’s kin-dom is from our reality when the question of discipleship arises. Jesus is very harsh with those who would be disciples. He reminds them and us how difficult being a disciple really is – no place to call home, no adherence to cultural norms, no time to even say goodbye to your family. Jesus commands a radical shift in understanding what a good life, what a life rooted in God, really is. Jesus’s ministry and the disciples who follow him must be focused on the future and the important task of proclaiming God’s kingdom to the world. Jesus and the disciples are single-minded in the task they have set before them – they cannot be distracted by the worldly demands of what is good or comfortable.

God’s good can be very different from the “good” our social conventions tell us to seek out. Our human good is often rooted in sinful power structures, particularly in using or stratifying people by economic worth, race, or gender. These power structures serve to focus us on human wants and needs over the call of God’s love and justice. It is easy for us to reject those things we consider to be evil in order to be followers of Christ, but sometimes what is more difficult is to reject the things we are told to see as good that keep us from our call to love God and neighbor. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable and even reject some of the things that help us have what our society deems to be the “good life” if we are to truly follow Christ’s command to love.

Lutheran theologian and ethicist Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, author of Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, puts into perspective our drive toward sin and the redemptive quality of Christ’s love in the paradox that is the life of a Christian:

“We are alienated from God and as a consequence of this alienation (sin), we will betray (to some extent) the ways and will of God. Instead of living according to God’s commandments to love God, self, and others, we will live as “selves curved in on self,” captive to self-interest. The profound paradox is that simultaneously, we are saved by God. Salvation frees us from living as “selves curved in on self,” and saves us for loving God, self, others, and this good Earth. God renders us living abodes of God’s justice-making love. This paradox reverberates with power for the good. It means that regardless of our implication in cruel forms of oppression, human beings also are capable of and called to lives of justice-making love.[1]

Just because there is sin, just because there is harm and hurt and destruction does not mean that we are not capable of seeking the ultimate good.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” These are good words to hear this week. It reminds us that as followers of Christ we are not only called to live in line with the Spirit’s ways but that we are to be dynamically involved with the Spirit, moving through life guided by it. Like Jesus who continues to move forward in his ministry even when he encounters obstacles, Paul urges the Galatians to continue their spiritual journey guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Galatians has some very important lessons that can be interpreted for the modern-day church. Paul highlights the tendencies of human nature which continue to repeat themselves generation after generation. Last week, the section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed the false ways human beings try to create hierarchical structures of who is considered to be more or less Christian, or in or out from society, who has power and who is powerless according to their own standards in the name of God. If that doesn’t sound at all familiar, you haven’t been paying attention recently. Our human existence is plagued by the drive toward sin, toward that which directs us away from or interferes with our relationship with God. This week, Paul reminds the Galatians that their commandment from Christ is to love one another, which is obviously something easier said than done.

How will we love our neighbor as ourselves? How? How are we doing it right now? If you are a conscious breathing human adult living in the world today, you can see the many, many, many ways in which we are failing at this. We turn a blind eye to the harm created by exploitative systems. We blame poor people for not wanting to work when the wages offered are not enough to survive on. We witness an unjustified war, rooted in nationalism and economic gain. We fail to give equitable access to healthcare to all people. We helplessly look on as mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting takes place and then are deflated when laws that have been proven to lower gun violence are declared unconstitutional. We are left stunned when bodily autonomy is taken away even when we knew it was coming. There are so many hurting and upset people in this world right now. As we continually experience trauma after trauma, we might begin to feel numb about knowing what to do next. We grieve our present reality and look to the past for guidance on where we’ve been and how we got to this very confusing and challenging place. However, we cannot get stuck on focusing on things that have already happened. We have to face toward the future. Jesus knows that his future lies in Jerusalem. He sets his face toward it. He will spend the next ten chapters of Luke on that trek, teaching and healing people along the way. The work of God’s kindom calls us to continue to move forward in an ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit and our community in order to seek God’s love and justice.

To move forward from this place of despair, our understanding of God must be relational. We cannot hope to have a glimpse of the Kindom here on earth if we refuse to be in relationship with one another. We need to be reminded of the ways that the Spirit is present in our lives and look for its fruits as a means of identifying that which brings us into fuller relationship with one another and with God. Our discipleship is a journey, but it is also an opportunity to learn and care for one another. Listen to the fruits of the spirit again: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. None of these mean anything outside of being in relationship with God and with one another. When one of us is harmed, all of us are harmed. When we have in-fighting about who is right and wrong we run the risk of destroying all. Think back to last week’s reading in Galatians – Paul emphasizes that all of the divisions between people, particularly the ones we place on each other, dissolve in the body of Christ. If we succumb to in-fighting over these human made structures, we weaken our expression of God’s love and ultimately destroy ourselves.

One of my favorite parts of my Lutheran heritage is Luther’s 1520 treatise, The Freedom of a Christian. Luther builds upon the concept that Paul points out to the Galatians in his epistle – you are freed by Christ by the grace of God but with that freedom you are to care for and be in service to your neighbor. The freedom gained through God’s redeeming love in the death and resurrection of Jesus binds us to one another. We are to be in service to, to look out for, to love each other in the way that God loves us. That is what we are here to do. That is what our baptismal vows call us toward. We have to be able to look our neighbor in the eye and treat them with the dignity they deserve in all of their complexities as human beings.

God seeks out the uncomfortable. In Christ, we know that God is intimately familiar with the suffering we endure. God also knows what it means to be in opposition to the human power structures that divert us from God’s will and how costly following Christ can be in those circumstances. God de-stablizes the status quo. God causes us to question those in power about what their motives really are – to use their power for freedom, justice, righteousness, or to hold on to power for power’s sake – to control, to harm, to be indifferent about the suffering of others. If the world does not care about seeking justice for all, we must commit ourselves to live out the body of Christ in the world. In the words of Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, being the body of Christ in the world is a “form of God’s overflowing love embodied in community that acts responsibly in the world on behalf of abundant life for all, especially on behalf of those who are persecuted or marginalized.”[2]

We must continue forward following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our sightline is set on God’s Kindom, a place where joyful abundance, justice, and peace is set forth for all people. We may share in John and James’ fury at being denied what we believe to be the right course of action, but we follow Christ, through the challenges, through the discomforts, through the hardships clinging to one another as siblings sharing in God’s grace and unconditional love.

In closing, I would like to share a prayer from the Rev. Micah Bucey for times such as these. Rev. Bucey is a minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City and is author of The Book of Tiny Prayer (you can also find him on Instagram @revmicahb). The prayer is titled “A Tiny Prayer (for those who need to fume today)”:

Let us pray:

May you give yourself the permission you require, knowing that the ground feels shaky, the air feels thick, the future feels scarily uncertain, and then may you reconstitute this anger into action, connecting with those who are also transforming their rage into a radical recommitment to love, trusting that this sparking electric current presently flowing through your body is simply seeking redirection in order to refuel your continued participation in our hopeful revolution.


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students


[1] Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D.. Resisting Structural Evil : Love As Ecological-Economic Vocation, 1517 Media, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from bu on 2022-06-25 13:04:39.

[2] Ibid.